Tip #150: Go with the flow.
Growing up, my sisters and I had a plastic Little Tikes playhouse that we kept in our backyard. I adored it. You know the one? With the green roof and red door? The yellow shutters made for slamming shut dramatically? The folding table and the yellow phone? I’d hang out the dutch door barking orders to my younger sisters for hours without losing interest. (By some miracle, they stuck around.)
I recently had the experience of being invited to someone else’s home in the neighborhood. In a towering brownstone, a group of women passed the evening in just one of its beautiful rooms, twice the size of our current apartment and then some. It was fabulously decorated, like something that Zelda Fitzgerald might have dreamed up. It made our apartment feel like a grown-up version of a Little Tikes playhouse; a whole house shrunk to fit into just one room. And like that simple plastic playhouse, our apartment is one that requires a fair bit of imagination to enjoy.
In our home, we need one room to fulfill roles that are often divvied up by at least four different ones. (Here’s the layout, in case you’re curious.) I’ve written a bit before about carving out spaces within a small space so that you might enjoy each function separately, but as important as it’s been for me to end up with distinct kitchen, living, and sleeping zones, a project that I just finished this weekend reminded me that it’s also crucial that each of these spaces flows visually one into the next.
This example is kid-specific, because, well, there are two of them in here now. The same concept can be put into practice whether or not you live in a place with tiny humans running amok.
After Silas was born, we decided the time had come to welcome a kids’ table and chairs into our apartment. We wanted Faye to have a space that she could access easily and her art projects had started to outgrow the shelf we’d designated for them before. We found an unfinished children’s table and chairs for sale on Etsy. This weekend, I painted it.
Getting the table to fit into a flow that felt comfortable took a little bit of consideration. I initially thought I’d finish it with a beeswax and linseed oil, but when I did the bright yellow pine just became more so and proved a bit jarring in a small space with so much wood of a much more patinaed variety. Next I thought about painting the table the same deep navy that we’ve painted our bedroom furniture, but I decided I wanted those pieces to retain their unity in the “sleeping zone.” I briefly entertained the idea of a stain, but I’ve never had luck staining pine and I didn’t have reason to believe this time would be different. I wondered about painting the table a soft taupe to complement the brown woods without trying to mimic them, but for now I’ve settled on a pale bluish gray, leftover from our closet stencil project. I like that the current color echoes the other blues in our apartment, without commanding too much attention and that the space exists as its own entity while working peaceably with the rest of the joint.
To improve the corner where the table sits, I lowered a print to better suit the table’s scale, restored Faye’s toolbox to its proper place on the table, tacked up a few book jacket illustrations, and photographed it while she slept and before she unleashed her artistic fury on the blank slates before her. Flow, in a tiny apartment.
For the curious:
We bought our Colorado-made wooden table and chairs from Endeavor Toys on Etsy. (Highly recommend.)
The table is painted Lily White from Benjamin Moore. Faye calls it white; I stand by my contention that it’s a very pale blue.
The print is called Homestead, by Beauchamping. It’s custom framed, by a local shop, and was a wedding gift from my parents. If you’re curious about similar framing options and don’t have a local option, we’ve had luck with both Framebridge and Simply Framed.
I love this. I currently live in a 700 sq ft apartment in Toronto with my husband and 5 year old. We have a baby on the way and everyone keeps asking when we’re moving! I maintain that we have plenty of space for now. I am envious of your main living space though. Our unit has two small bedrooms, and a very generously sized washroom– leaving very little for common living space. Our coffee table is our piano bench is our daughter’s art table!
ah, the grass is always greener! i would have *loved* to have a bedroom with a door on it when silas was born!
As a piano teacher of small children (in Toronto too!), I am VERY happy to hear that you have a piano bench and prioritize a piano, even though you have a small space. I have heard many families protest that they “couldn’t possibly fit a piano” into their 3-storey Victorian semi. 🙂 So, bravo!
Wow, Erin, is your home ever messy? It always looks so simple and effortless and beautiful. I really love your new space, especially the “Where the Wild Things Are” prints at Faye’s level. You did a spectacular job in making the space flow. I wish I could do things like this in my home, but my husband made a little table for my boys and they wouldn’t stop propping it up against the wall to make it a “slide”, so I had to remove it so they’d stop getting hurt trying to climb it. Going with the flow in my house is more like letting go of the fact that every wall has one of my children’s scribbles on it and trying to accept the knowledge that they’ll find a way to everything, no matter how high it is. Ha, our lives are so different :]. Love looking into yours.
Ha! I’m a pretty big neatnik, but it definitely gets topsy turvy sometimes! Especially when Faye is building a fort or otherwise bringing every single toy out of her room 😉
Ha! I’m a pretty big neatnik, but it definitely gets topsy turvy sometimes—especially when Faye is building a fort or otherwise bringing every single toy out of her room 😉
It might have to do with ages and stages, too. Our home was very clean when we had one child, and then a toddler and baby, but now with two full on kid-kids the work it takes to keep it neat is at a whole new level, and we do find many more, um, “surprises” than we used to. But I love this mantra to go with the flow – to arrange what you can to accommodate the life you actually have. And the stages really do morph so quickly in the long run.
When I was little, my brother and I had a similar table and several chairs.
I adored him to make crafts and jewelry for the New Year.
It looks great! Our girls used their little table + chairs so much. I can picture it in every home we lived while they were small…all of the artwork created, tea parties hosted, and snacks enjoyed too. 🙂
I love reading your posts on life in a tiny apartment. While we certainly do not live in a tiny one (we have about a 1000 square feet for 3 of use including a teenager), we moved from a house where we had double surface. We have downsized significantly (obviously) but I am very much of a novice at organizing this new life. I do enjoy this new life, on a smaller scale but it does happen that I miss some space. Then I quickly realise it is to store clutter! Furniture is still moving around and the flow is probably what is missing here. Thank you for sharing.
Where the Wild things are!!
Please help me figure out how to paint furniture while it’s freezing temps outside and our studio size apt. hangs on to those fumes way too long.
We use natura paint from Benjamin Moore! No fumes!
I’m going to side with Faye on the table color. 😉
I think my biggest problem with living in a tiny space (mine is 600 sq ft) is that it doesn’t feel like a grown up place compared to my friends’. Either they live in bigger places and keep the kid stuff out of sight, or they live in small places without kids. My place looks like it’s owned by kids, which it kind of is.
Please tell me where I can find a hook like the one by the door with your bag hanging from it? We really need to create a little makeshift landing space and I need some sturdy hooks that can hold coats and laptop bags, I love the look of yours! Thanks
Mine is from Schoolhouse Electric! This one: https://www.schoolhouse.com/collections/hooks/products/mission-hook
As a fellow small apartment dweller, one thing I’ve struggled with is how to do painting, sanding, etc. type projects when we have no backyard, garage or basement. How do you do this? Just bite the bullet and do it in your apartment with a drop cloth? Or do you have a friend that lets you do projects in their backyard? Would love to know your secret.
Here you go! https://readingmytealeaves.com/2014/04/life-in-tiny-apartment-works-in-progress.html (also: https://readingmytealeaves.com/2016/04/life-in-a-tiny-apartment-drop-cloth.html)
Still so impressed by how you guys make this space work for all four of you! My husband, a 75 pound dog, and I all live in a 600 square foot one bedroom apartment, and though we purged before moving in, we still feel cramped!
Hi Erin! I love your space. My family is downsizing to a 700 square foot place – There is not much storage built in – any advice how to store brooms mops vacuums. Also any advice on hanging heavy coats and shoe storage. Thanks for taking the time to read this 🙂
Hi there: There’s some stuff in my book on the subject of hanging up cleaning supplies! There’s this post on shoes and just general advice to reinforce your screws if you plan to use hooks!
Thank you very much Erin!
It’s funny – we recently moved from about 700sf rental to about 1200 rental, and I feel like I’m swimming in the space. It costs so much more to furnish your home, and I don’t know where to put a little kids’ table (the rooms are small) bc everywhere feels awkward bc you do feel like every room is meant to be its own thing. It’s given me a lot of pause as I think about our future home plans.
It is always so hard to fit everything you need and want into a small space, but when you can and do it nicely it is a large accomplishment that many strive to achieve. I love the idea of giving your child an area that is just for them, although in a small space it has to be hard to keep the home decor and space feeling “adult.” Great job!
Your home is lovely. The jar of chalk is even pretty! It’s calming!
How do you care for your sheepskin rug? Have you ever washed it? I have a faux one from Ikea and wondered about this.
BTW I love the little toolbox. I think they are underused in most houses. I bought a grown up version recently and can think of so many ways to use it already.
This is the most beautiful thing! I love small spaces; they are so quaint and home-y. My parents own a tiny cottage and every time I visit I am struck with how much I adore a smaller space. It makes you appreciate the people who occupy it. Love this!
Love this print!
I love tiny flats. I don’t even need those big fancy apartments, I find small spaces much more cozy and comfy.
Do you plan on homeschooling Faye or will you be sending her to a preschool soon?
Im debating all this for my daughter now and we live in Brooklyn too! So many school options but so hard to decide!
I work full time, so I won’t be homeschooling Faye in any kind of formal way! Right now the plan is to send her to preschool when she turns four, but all subject to change!
The little table looks charming! I like the very pale blue!
I work from home, from my bedroom, and everysooften (i.e. every time I mention it) someone questions my choice of combining office and bedrom into one space, claiming it will affect my sleep and stress me out etc. I have always felt that it works great, much better than when I had my desk in the living room and felt like I could never really “leave work”. Reading this, it occurred to me that the reason it works so much betteris that the bedroom part and the office part of the room are clearly separate the way I have it setup now (1/4 office space including free floor space between desk and bed, 3/4 private space), whereas the office space and private space kept interfering with each other when I had my desk and office supplies in the much larger living room. I also always make my bed before I start working, which I think helps a lot.
Thank you for helping me put into words why my setup works for me, for now.
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